Review of May 15th Open Forum

As stated previously about the May 15th Open Forum we held, the attendance was a bit sparse but the discussion was good. Chuck Jackson and I were joined by Andrew Wilk, Summer Curry, Chris Hamb, Karen Roese and Shandra Summerville.

After giving a brief intro and what we are doing and why, we gave Sir Ken Robinson the floor via a 12-minutes RSA video: http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/rsa-animate-changing-education-paradigms. With a bit of humor, Robinson tells the story of how the current educational model is good for some, not for others; how it can be really boring and has the tendency to squash any creative tendancies in a budding child. He associates “divergent thinking” as a measure of creativity, and asserts that the factory-model, assembly line style is counter-productive in this sense. “We need to wake them up!”

We started our dialog about the limitations placed upon reading. For instance, the timestamp method (as a kindergartner, one is stamped with an implicit date of “delivery” or graduation, ‘Class of ….’) makes it rather difficult for exception readers to advanced beyond their grade level. There is a perception (which I have heard from others as well) that parents of such students opt to patronize schools outside the public school district for this reason.

Likewise, those that fall behind are swept forward with everyone else. There was talk of extreme examples in our district where kids need help reading in high school. Local colleges like Parkland are finding they have to devote an inordinate amount of time assigning students to remedial preparation before getting them into entry level classes. As one attendee said, there is a paradox, two mutually exclusive goals educating children vs graduating children. Obviously, in an ideal situation these two goals are aligned. One attendee mentioned a teacher going against what the teacher was supposed to do just to get the child to read. We are still trying to see how Dr. Wiegand’s goal to have students “reading at grade level by third grade” is going to work out.

We then switched gears a little talked a bit about Advocacy. We were informed/reminded that the Regional Office of Education (ROE) offers parental advocacy training and the connection to National Federation of Families for special needs students. Some kind of outside advocate (external to school district) could help walk parents through bureaucratic procedures and in general help empower them as they try to work the system. We took aim at the Unit 4 use of technology, noting that things are often hard to find and/or laden with technical jargon that is not readily accessible to the average joe. Took a little bit of a detour and also noted that the district’s internal use of technology was almost like taking a step back 10 years, with an slightly draconian stance of telling kids “no” in terms of technology.

The topic of the Detroit Walkout came up. There is a sense that administrators in general are not listening; one attendee quipped about the general attitude “Tell me what you want and I’ll tell you why you can’t have it”. It seems preposterous that some kids are waiting around for others to catch up (again going back to the yearly traversal through grade levels).

We circled back to the topic of parochial and charter schools. Not many charter schools up and running – why not? Obviously, when parents spend more money (over and above the large chunk going to public schools), they want to have some idea of investing in their child. Some private schools mandate parental involvement in one fashion or another. Curious how these folks are not being interviewed on a wider scale – or at east, not that we know of. From a student’s perspective, why do they go to school?

There is a perception that there is a lack of emphasis on relationship building. This appears evident in dealing with discipline issues (especially so), talking with Administrators and getting the “We’ve never heard that before”, or navigating the maze of seemingly archaic policies. The impression is that those who say something against the system (or even against an individual) are marginalized.

Unfortunately, I did not write down any action steps. I am kicking myself for this faux pas. Did we have any? If not, we need some. 🙂 Something was said about a database….

I invite others to comment and add to this post, continuing the discussion online.

Last but not least, here is the updated list of topics that were written down (note that the spoken/verbal topics are not necessarily incorporated yet).

1. Maybe have outside site that includes factual information regarding state standards and policies for education
2. Use social media outlets to get knowledge about standards and policies.
3. Next meeting:
a. More issues on the table
4. Disicpline and bullying:
a. no record of prior history
b. teachers too much are observers
c. more transparency in decision making
d. don’t have the whole picutre
5. Goals RPI
a. teachers should interview with kids who struggle
b. change policy? Get kids in different learning environments
6. Out of the Box
a. small group around each student
b. change report cards to have a mandatory comment section, everything else
optional?
c. education has to be relational
d. throw out schools of choice
7. Rasie expectations
a. strict expectations
b. enforced
8. Curriculum
a. not hard enough
b. differentiation, but not the way we do it now
9. Money
10. Trasnportation
a. Privatise bus company
b. with the money paid for renting land, we would have paid for garages many
times
11. Communication
a. a disconnect
b. some office staff not friendly
12. Climate
a. Achievement expectations are low
b. behavior expectations are low
c. Does not support a lot of learning
d. don’t compare students to each other
e. Turn org chart upside down
f. time to focus on kids, not adults
g. more diversity
h. high mobility != low performance
i. schols of choice = high mobility

4 Responses to “Review of May 15th Open Forum”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    In terms of transparency, what do you guys think about this example from Wake County:
    http://www.wcpss.net/Board/work-session-materials/05-15-2012–work-session/recommended-transparency-policy.pdf

  2. Chuck Jackson Says:

    The transparency paper they put together seems good. I have a few quibbles but the main thing I think it is missing is the mention of all the paper (electronic files) between the administration and the BOE. Though there are many documents listed in the opening paragraphs I don’t see any reference to supporting documents, reports and essentially the contents of the packet the BOE members receive each week. Some of that is privileged certainly, but much of it is not. One example is that if we only get agendas and minutes, much of the content of the meeting is lost because both of those documents refer to other documents rather than repeat or quote them.
    I don’t know if this is onerous, or if it is perhaps invasive but I’d like to see some sort of documentation of each board member’s hours spent on school business. It does seem to speak directly to a BOE member’s effectiveness if they can say, I spent an hour at Dr. Howard, three at Central, etc. I spent 4 hours in conversation with community members, etc. It also might get at how in the world there can be such amazing agreement among them when they haven’t spoken as a board prior to the meetings.

  3. Chuck Jackson Says:

    In terms of the meeting itself, my notes are similar.
    There is much in your summary about ways in which schools don’t work. I’d say this was the general theme of the evening. From technology to discipline procedures to the ability to listen well or what we started with, Robinson’s critique of “the date of manufacture” being the most important data about each student. I have said that I don’t want the forums to be all negative, all the time. What are the solutions? Unfortunately, there is no one in the schools who is willing to throw open the doors and welcome critique. How do we develop meaningful relationships that allow for trusting partnerships which, in turn bring about meaningful change?

    Another topic that we discussed was the reality that 20-25% of all students will succeed regardless (shall we say, in spite of) the school environment. It is not on the basis of those students that any school system can be judged. It is what our schools positively contribute to those without sufficient opportunity and resources (as measured by talent, money, “cultural capital”, supportive home environment, etc.) that really becomes the measure of our schools.

    I don’t think we were at a point to look too hard for action steps but we did discuss parental boycotts – where we keep our kids home on half days because of the ridiculousness of calling it a day of learning when everyone knows very little learning happens in the disrupted schedule of a half day – but all in the name of collecting our state dollars for a day “in school.” It was not planned for, but we discussed it.

    I wonder what it takes for any school system (of course I’m thinking first about *our* school system) to begin to notice the disaffection. There is seemingly little concern that so many private and alternative educational environments are flourishing, certainly there has been court system involvement, there are people speaking as individuals every day. The WCB issue was directly in the faces of Unit 4 BOE members, yet they proceeded. An Urbana school board member was quoted at the forum wondering how it is that district 116 has 500 fewer students than they expect to have.

    I have written and deleted eight to ten different closing remarks. It isn’t easy. It isn’t easy for the schools, the admin, the teachers, the BOE. It isn’t easy for parents who want the best for their kids, the community that is shamed by failing schools (by the official numbers), the unions who tries to insure great working conditions and improve the lives of teachers and other employees.

    It isn’t easy, but our schools need to be better.

  4. pattsi Says:

    Chuck, based on my experience on the CB, notating how much time I spend on CB issues really does not tell you anything as to effectiveness. A much better measure is what I am doing with whatever information I have, no matter how gained–reading the packet, talking with people, going to other board meetings, reading outside sources, etc. Do I sit there as a lump on a log or am I able to get in place best practices for the health, safety, and welfare of county residents. What you propose is parallel to all of the testing students study to pass, but who cares what they have learned. 🙂


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